Iraq-Sweden Diplomatic Crisis Unfolds

Supporters of Shiite religious leader Moqtada Sadr stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad at dawn and set it on fire before being dispersed by the police.

Iraq on Thursday ordered the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador to Baghdad in response to the desecration of a copy of the Koran in Stockholm, an initiative which also led to an assault on the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, which was set on fire by demonstrators. Even as the mini-rally took place in the Swedish capital where the holy book of Islam was trampled on, but not burned as planned, the Iraqi government ordered the expulsion of the Scandinavian country’s ambassador to Baghdad, and recalled its own representative. The Iraqi authorities have also announced that they are suspending the license of Swedish telecom equipment giant Ericsson in the country. Thursday evening, some 200 demonstrators denounced in Baghdad the desecration of the Koran. “Yes, yes, to the Koran,” they chanted, notably brandishing the holy book of Islam as well as Iraqi flags. Some burned Swedish flags. “It’s an attack on two billion Muslims,” raged Amjad al-Maliki, a 46-year-old civil servant.

After Swedish police announced on Wednesday that they would allow the mini-rally where a copy of the Koran was to be burned, supporters of Shiite religious leader Moqtada Sadr stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad at dawn and set it on fire before being dispersed by police with water cannons. The Swedish Foreign Ministry, which assured that the diplomatic personnel were “safe”, denounced an “unacceptable” attack. He then summoned the Iraqi charge d’affaires to Stockholm.

France and the United States “condemned” the attack on the embassy, Washington deeming “unacceptable that the Iraqi security forces did not act to prevent the demonstrators” from entering it.

Turkey, which has long blocked Sweden’s NATO membership, condemned the “despicable” desecration and urged Stockholm to “take dissuasive measures” to avoid any new similar acts. Denouncing for its part the desecration of the Koran, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) spoke of a “new provocative act”. Its secretary general, Hissein Brahim Taha, urged Stockholm to “stop issuing authorizations (for gatherings, editor’s note) to extremist groups and individuals”, according to a press release.

The head of pro-Iranian Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, for his part demanded the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador to Lebanon and called for demonstrations. During the dawn incident in Baghdad, some demonstrators were chased with electric batons while others responded with rocks.

After several hours of tension between demonstrators and riot police outside the Swedish embassy building, where the extent of the damage is not yet known, calm has been restored. About 20 people were arrested, according to a security source. The Iraqi authorities have decided to “bring to justice the perpetrators of the fire who have been arrested”, according to the services of the Iraqi Prime Minister. A few hours after the violence in Baghdad, the organizer of the rally in Stockholm, Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Iraqi refugee in Sweden, desecrated a copy of the Koran but did not go through with his project. “It’s just a circus, it’s just a show, it wants publicity, it’s just a clown,” said a passerby.

Swedish police had allowed the rally in the name of freedom of assembly, but stressed that this did not amount to condoning what would happen there. At the end of June, Salwan Momika had already burned a few pages of a copy of the Koran in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque on the first day of Eid al-Adha, a holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world.

This first incident prompted Moqtada Sadr’s supporters to storm the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, but they quickly got out. The gesture of Mr. Momika in Stockholm had then provoked a volley of international condemnations.

This type of action has already taken place in Sweden or in other European countries, sometimes at the initiative of far-right movements. In January, Swedish-Danish right-wing extremist Rasmus Paludan went into action near the Turkish embassy.

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